It’s not a secret to anyone that our political process is broken. We watch these people we don’t know, that we are told we elected, flounder around the political arena in suits we couldn’t afford, making statements about what’s best for us that don’t seem to bear out much logic. We struggle to understand why they can’t seem to get anything done. We try – we really do – to wrap our heads around how ‘principals’ and ‘facts’ became mutually exclusive.
Meanwhile, in the real world where we all live, things are hard. And somehow, in spite of the political turmoil, real people are helping each other. Even more astounding, we don’t base our willingness to help on the other persons political affiliation. We help because helping is the right thing to do. That basic belief crosses just about every boundary of race, religion or economic class. Every boundary, it would seem, except politics. Forget for a moment the politicians you see on TV that swear they are just like you. Think about the people you do know. The people you see every day. The person who held the door for you this morning could be a republican or a democrat. I’m sure you didn’t think about it, because it doesn’t matter. Both republicans and democrats have families they love and jobs they need. Both republicans and democrats donate food and work in soup kitchens. Both republicans and democrats fear for the future. Both republicans and democrats get sick and need healthcare. Both republicans and democrats can run into a building when someone needs saving. Nine years ago, both republicans and democrats did exactly that.
In the days following September 11th, I watched people far more brave than I search relentlessly for the trapped and buried. For days, for weeks, for months. Digging through still-burning steel. I was not a hero. It was my job to work in and around Ground Zero to make sure the heroes had what they needed to keep going. I was hero support staff. And for three months, while I was working, I watched. I watched people show up from all over North America. Don’t think for a second this is about New Yorkers. I personally worked alongside firefighters and rescue workers from Texas, New Mexico, Vancouver and Alaska. Countless numbers of people traveled for days for the opportunity to join the ranks. Just to help. The EPA told us there was no indication that the air was toxic and we knew they were lying. There were NEVER enough respirators. But they dug and they searched. They never gave up. Through their rage and their despair, they searched. Through their exhaustion they searched. They found some alive and many dead. What happened in Ground Zero was pure, unadulterated patriotism in the absence of any political agenda. People helping people. As simple as it gets.
Now fast forward nine years through the political muck and let’s be honest. We’ve heard ‘9/11 Hero’ so many times it may not mean much to you anymore. 9/11 itself has been so over-used as a political tool that it’s easy, almost understandable, to tune the whole thing out. But people, all over the country, are now dying because they dove head first into a disaster to try to save as many people as they could. So why are we abandoning them? The Zadroga 9/11 health bill would fund their medical care, along with the medical care of any survivors or relief workers, like me, who were exposed to that toxic cocktail. I desperately need a republican to explain to me why this isn’t important. Why this is partisan. Why I have to watch my friends die. Why I have to sit around wondering if I will be next, knowing I won’t have the money to fight if I am. How will I explain to my son that he will have to watch me die because I chose to help. How do I prepare him to live in that world?
I really hate it when words fail me. When I feel they aren’t strong enough. Or immediate enough. Lately it seems that people use more words to say nothing than ever before. I’m desperate to use the right words here, guys. But how do you explain that we need to stand up for our heroes? How could that not be obvious? How do you fight that kind of apathy?
I don’t have the answer yet. So, senator, maybe I cannot stop you from killing my friends. Maybe before too long I will be among them and there will be one less voice to protest. But sir, for your sake, since that seems to be the sake that concerns you most, I hope you never need a hero. And how sadly ironic that for all our fear of terrorism, it will be our senators that kill us.